Bukola Bakare is a PhD student in transportation and logistics at North Dakota State University. She is a part of Health Policy Research Scholars Cohort 2016.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your research interests.
I’m an academic, a teacher and learner, an advocate for better health, and an entrepreneur. I am an explorer with a map and a compass, instinctively in search of the next discovery, driven to be a part of the solution, and to feed my intellectual and inquisitive mind. I emigrated to the United States in 2003 and, as a first-generation student, navigated the difficult path of college education, completing my undergraduate degree at Georgia State University and master’s degree at Kennesaw State University in Georgia.
My interdisciplinary research focuses on transportation, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and health. My research approach specifically highlights issues surrounding the complexity of transportation (traffic congestion), how it impacts humans and the environment, and corporate social responsibility actions in light of this complex issue. Specifically, my latest study uses a mixed methods design to examine the connection between traffic congestion and corporate social responsibility ratings of companies located in the most congested metropolitan areas of the United States.
What’s the story behind why you’re doing what you’re doing?
I believe that we need to have more options for active transportation (e.g., sidewalks, bike routes, mass transit) and pedestrian safety in and around urban areas in the U.S. People usually drive long distances, and sitting in traffic congestion causes stress and frustration. I have experienced, first hand, the negative health effects of sitting for hours in traffic congestion, inhaling the fumes from car exhaust, while driving to teach business classes. Based on these two facts, I was driven to ask questions that then informed my research ideas.
Tell us about a project you are currently working on that you are excited about.
My dissertation. I studied some of the aspects of CSR that are currently rated by third-party companies and investigated the effect that these corporate actions have on traffic congestion. Many corporations in the U.S. partake in actions that show their stewardship toward their community and environment, and present an annual report of these actions. These reported social responsibility actions performed by corporations and rated by third-party companies are referred to as CSR.
Given that congestion mitigation is not currently an aspect of CSR that is tracked or rated, and that business operations and employee commutes contribute highly to traffic congestion, my dissertation research examined CSR related to reducing emissions for any indirect impact on traffic congestion. Using a mixed methods approach, I found that corporate actions toward reducing emissions may help reduce congestion. And the current global pandemic has presented us with visible evidence that fewer people driving clears the air.
For people unfamiliar with your research area, what is one piece of information you think is important for them to know?
Traffic congestion is bad and takes a toll on your health.
If you do not have to drive, walking, biking, and taking public transportation can help you achieve regular physical activity. Exercise can not only mitigate the stress and lack of productivity that result from traffic congestion, but can also help reduce the risk of many chronic diseases and improve overall health. Reduced traffic also improves air quality.
Infrastructure such as safe sidewalks, light rail, and bike routes encourages people to choose active transportation. Investing in active transportation can have a great impact on the health and mobility of the less privileged, elderly and people with disabilities.
Who is a researcher you admire and why?
My PhD advisor, Dr. Joseph Szmerekovsky. He taught me that the best way to conduct research is to first identify a good research question, then read academic journals to discover how others have looked at similar problems, and then design the study and collect data. He is a very passionate researcher who always calls on his students to work hard. He strikes the fine balance between teaching his students and allowing us to flourish as researchers in the making.
How has being an HPRS Scholar helped you during your time as a doctoral candidate?
In addition to the training I received during my doctoral program, the HPRS program provided me with further tools for answering my research questions. For example, through the HPRS Enhanced Learning Opportunity (ELO) and leadership program, I participated in the Stanford Mixed Methods Research Workshop. The learning and resources from this workshop provided me with additional tools for examining my research. Furthermore, the HPRS writing retreat allowed me to fully devote myself to writing my dissertation and provided me with an avenue to bounce my ideas off of my writing coach and colleagues. I also had the opportunity to tap into different ways of writing in nontechnical terms and for policy audiences.
In the RWJF HPRS program we have worked with you to help you think further about using your research to develop policy. If you could use your research to change any policy, what policy would it be?
Traffic congestion presents a major challenge and has proven to be beyond what a city or a single organization can handle without multi-sector collaboration? My dissertation research presents a key finding for companies and their raters to consider adding traffic congestion mitigation measures to their policies and rating matrix. If I could use my research to change any policy, I would provide alternatives (flexible schedules or work from home) to the standard 8-to-5 workday and the associated rush-hour congestion.
Enacting such policies is a natural extension of CSR efforts to reduce businesses’ effect on the environment and to improve the lives of their employees and communities. These types of policies have the added benefit of keeping businesses going during a global health pandemic like COVID-19. I would also call for cities and corporations to engage in more public-private partnerships focused on active transportation projects to tackle traffic congestion. These city revitalization projects allow people to walk and bike more, which improves local air quality and quality of life.
OK, here’s a fun question to wrap things up. If you could visit any place in the world, where would you choose to go and why?
I would love to visit the Antarctic Peninsula. I would like to see the oceans, the large glaciers, the icebergs, the penguins, and the other animals that reside there.
Thank you so much for your time!